The dinner I had last week at Café Boulud, the iconic Daniel Boulud restaurant at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, truly embodied the essence and ideals of Lyonnaise cooking and eating!! – a style that focuses on intensity of sensuous gratification with an acceptance that it is our inherent nature to indulge, and therefore delivers on this, rather than playing the pretense of permanent calorie-counting and ultimately leaving us with a chronic yearning for more! However, this indulgence does not slump to an “all-you-can-eat” tactic, but instead, instigates fulfillment through complex methods of combining and extracting from ultimate ingredients, regardless of how rich they might be! Indeed, the next day was mostly a “salad” day for me, but the memory of what I savoured on this night, as well as knowing that I could eventually repeat the experience, in fact, makes it easier to enjoy a low-cal salad!
Some of the aforementioned attributes were present right from the opening bread/butter standard! Along with butter, came the option of chive accented sheep’s ricotta cheese, that had room-tempered butter consistency, adorned with a puddle of olive oil in its center! As expected in a place like this, the contrasting bread textures were impeccable! – a very crispy crust, with a light, airy center, that when broken off, felt more like peeling than tearing!
My first course was a classic steak tartare. Prepared tableside, you can watch the delicious shallots, egg yolks, sauces and garnishes being mixed into the beef, for just the right duration. Accompaniments of toast, thin, waffled potato wedges and hearts of lettuce with an aioli-tasting stripe and capers, act as mini platforms to top with, or dip into the tartare!
The next course was the highlight for me! – a quenelle de brochet, essentially a pike soufflé, which was as ethereal as you’d expect it to be! It was placed in a divine, piping hot, cognac, lobster crème sauce, with floating pungent mushrooms!! On one hand this sauce was so delicate yet felt so satiating!!This dish was quite reminiscent of the lavish and sophisticated style of Boulud’s mentor, Paul Bocuse! It went so perfectly with my cocktail, which also featured cognac, as well as Cointreau and fleur d’oranger. These hints of orange added yet one more, subtle dimension to this highly exquisite experience!
For dessert, I felt that the menu’s strawberry pavlova would balance things off beautifully, and I think I was right! Masterful Executive Chef, Sylvain Assié enjoys picking fresh strawberries, and apparently this dessert proves that he knows how to put them to good use! This was not your average homemaker’s pavlova, of which I’ve had some delectable samplings! Here, the customary whipped cream was replaced by two contrasting creams housed inside a crunchy meringue dome! One was a rich vanilla bean crème, where one can get that all too elusive genuine vanilla fix, and the other was a gianduja ganache, where the indirect hint of hazelnut added yet another facet to this collage of flavours!! This juxtaposition of multiple creams amidst meringue is seemingly inspired by a Lyonnaise classic, the supreme gateau marjolaine, invented by Bocuse’s teacher, Fernand Point! The dome was decorated with slivers of refreshing crystalized mint and surrounded by a soothing strawberry syrup, which was a marvelous balance to the compressed strawberries (there were also rhubarbs) that helped make this dessert a benchmark for all pavlovas!!
The service was amicable, displaying great teamwork! And it was a nice touch when the bartender delivered my cocktail personally!
Pumpkin-coloured leather banquettes with a somewhat contemporary version of those classic French globe lamps gave a cozy, comfortable ambiance!
It feels luxurious and uplifting when “living Lyonnaise” and based on this experience, I’m ready and eager to live it more often!!!
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